Panels of the Four Seasons
You lower tiers of wisteria,
steep patrina in
trays of green, daub
grass before a brushwood door.
When the Oxherd seeks
the Weaver, magpies form
a bridge across
panels of gold sky. Quail
upon pampas, cuckoo among
hills, echo. Yellow in the
gingko: October passes a
candle-lit along the Kamo.
You find, in frost the fragrance
of chrysanthemum, a
memory of Autumn. A
fog, or bank of
cherry flowers. In empty
December forests, the last logs
of moonlight burn.
Robert Dorsett is a physician working in Berkeley. His latest book of translations, Ai Qing Selected Poems, was published by Random House/Penguin in 11/21.
His wife Deborah gathered the cleaned apples into a bowl. She had a flushed, animated energy, ripples David felt against his skin from his seat across the kitchen. The phone had rung at five that morning, and though he’d gone back to sleep, he could see she had not. Their three kids already off to school; a chicken roasted in the oven; a raw pie crust, edged neatly, cradled within a pie pan, ready for the apple filling.
Deborah lay a towel onto the counter, drew out the peeler. Her hands were trembling. “Best to use a combination of apples in a pie. That’s what my grandmother always said.”
On the wall next to him, a still life painting. Apples, red and green, radiant against a dingy-brown table; a pewter teapot stood next to the bowl, self-contained, stout, exactly how he’d pictured Deborah’s Midwestern grandmother. She had lived on an apple orchard, a place Deborah and her sister Cynthia played as children.
The peeler whispered in the quiet.
He pointed toward the painting. “There’s one fruit that’s different. All these years, and I never noticed.”
“A pomegranate.” Deborah kept her eyes on her work. His heart knocked against his ribs. Whoever had called, it couldn’t have been about one of their kids. Could it?
He said, “Deborah. The phone call this morning.”
“It was Peter. From the hospital. Cynthia lost the baby.”
“Oh, God.” His words slipped out in a groan. He’d thought Cynthia and the baby would be okay. Over four months had passed–longer than any of her other pregnancies. They’d all believed that this time… He glared at the painting, furious at such a simple scene of domesticity.
A dozen apples lay pale and bald on the cutting board. Deborah adjusted each, inspecting for flicks of skin. “Peter said Cynthia doesn’t want to see me.” She drew out a knife, began slicing.
“Best to let her be for a week or so.” Like the other times. “She’ll come around eventually, Deb.”
His wife gave an involuntary cry. They had three children, never any problems. As if paying penance, she kept working, focused on the flash and click of the wet knife.
He crossed the kitchen and touching her arm, whispered, “Stop for now, Deb.” Nodding, she lay down the knife and allowed herself to be led to the table, where she collapsed into a chair and broke into tears.
Rubbing her back, he gazed at the ridiculous painting. Why only one pomegranate? It didn’t make sense. And though he could ask Why? Why? Why? a million times, no one would be able to tell him.
Jennifer Mills Kerr
Jennifer Mills Kerr's flash fiction and poetry have been recently published in Blink-Ink, Platform for Prose, and Writing in a Woman’s Voice. An East Coast native, she loves mild winters, anything Jane Austen, and the raucous coast line of Northern California. You can read more of her creative work at https://jennifermillskerr.wixsite.com/jmkwriting
Our Man in Beauvais
In October 1930 my grandfather travelled to northern France to report on the crash of the British airship R101. He'd been to Paris just once before, so spent the last of his four days there, devoting the first three to the disaster near Beauvais and its aftermath. On the third evening, booked into his city lodging in the 18th arrondissement, he got into conversation with the owner, who asked him if he liked the work of the sculptor Rodin. On the walls of the small downstairs bar were photographs of Rodin's statues among old lithographic posters and some amateurish oil paintings of the Left Bank.
My grandfather was forty at the time and a freelance journalist. He'd been commissioned by the Illustrated London News to cover the accident but had also contributed essays and reviews to the magazine on art, especially of the European modernists, among whom his favourite was Giorgio de Chirico. He had recently written about a de Chirico exhibition for another publication, the Burlington Magazine, and admired the artist's eerily deserted streets, thinking them prescient. Anyway, my grandfather having divulged his reason for being in the country, and his interest in art, the landlord told him that he might like to know about a neighbour of his called Auguste Neyt, who had been the model for one of Rodin's early sculptures, the 1877 Age of Bronze. At the time, Neyt, a Belgian soldier and telegraphist, had had his photograph taken by Gaudenzio Marconi in order that Rodin could disabuse a sceptical art critic who had suggested that the sculpture might have been made from a life cast.
'How old would Neyt be now?' my grandfather asked.
'Old,' the landlord emphasised, scouring with a tea towel the inside of a glass. 'Très vieux. He used to come in here now and again; but I haven't seen him for weeks. I think he's still around, though.' (I can recall almost verbatim the way my grandfather told me this story. I'm guessing at precisely what was said, but he was a great one for encouraging the gist, or what he called 'the decorated truth', which also served as his definition of art, but never of reportage, of which he was a stickler for unadorned accuracy. He would have been pleased to know that I was keeping his tale alive.)
The next day, my grandfather asked for directions to Neyt's rooms, thinking he might be able to return home that evening with two stories. He walked there with the images of the airship crash site vivid in his memory. He'd telegraphed a preliminary report and had written up much of a longer account. It was the flimsiness of that mighty dirigible that had shocked him. A few hours into a flight to India via Egypt it had gently nose-dived to the ground and caught fire, killing all but eight of the fifty-six aboard. He'd expected to see smoke-blackened bits and pieces scattered over a huge area like the skeletons of a host of upturned greenhouses, or a dispersal by the wind of some ruined crystal palace; but the effect was of an implosion, concentrated in a small area. On the farthest perimeter, away from the little knot of police, reporters, and official investigators scrubbing the crash site like a buzz of flies around a cow pat, he'd made an astonishing discovery: the charred body of a man, alone in foetal position and unrecognisable.
Well, Neyt would have been old but not ancient, my grandfather thought – seventy-five to be precise, and probably still clinging to some vestige of fame by association. Rodin had died thirteen years before at more or less the same age. The photograph was almost as impressive as the sculpture: it was a study of strength and unabashed manhood, the whole effect skewed by an attempt at grace clearly posed to mimic the finished bronze. Despite his compressed musculature, Neyt looked curiously vulnerable, as naked an illustration as one could want of Franco-Prussian cannon fodder.
After climbing three flights of stairs, my grandfather arrived at the apartment and knocked at the door. Inside, he could hear bronchial coughing. There followed an exchange between a man and a woman, the dialogue combative, the woman's voice growing louder as she came forwards and opened the door. It was as though a curtain had been drawn across the threshold, but it was not a drape but the woman's torso. She was bare from the waist up and comprehensively plastered in tattoos, her outstretched left hand holding a flat-iron. My grandfather admitted to me that his French at the time was comically literal. He addressed the human tapestry standing before him:
'Bonjour, Madame. Je suis un écrivain Anglais. Est-ce que je peux être autorisé à parler à Monsieur Neyt?'
But before he'd finished, and looking beyond her, he could see his quarry. Neyt was sitting between a basket of ruffled clothing and an ironing table, near which was a column of pressed garments. The woman said nothing apart from mumbling an introduction to Neyt, tacitly inviting my grandfather in with a rapid jerk of the head. He did describe the conversation he had with Neyt as the woman – 'a stranger to modesty', was how he put it – continued her chore with frequent visits to the fireplace and repeated thwacks as her iron hit the table. Perhaps the two were used to such inquiries.
My grandfather: 'You posed for the great Rodin.'
Neyt: 'Mmm. You have cigarettes?'
My grandfather: 'I'm sorry. I don't smoke.' A pause. 'Did you sit for him often? What was he like? Quel genre de personne etait-il?'
His use of the word sit – asseyez – appeared to confuse Neyt, who probably always stood; that's if he did so more than on that one auspicious occasion.
Neyt called to his companion: 'Zure. Le photographe.'
The woman was well named: Zure. Azure. The tattoos reminded my grandfather of the sea: forms and images floated in a wet and rippling cerulean ocean-sky. She rested the iron, which hissed an objection. From a drawer she retrieved a small sepia photograph. She handed it to my grandfather, standing before him with full, pendulous, decorated breasts, and the first motions of a grin at his discomfiture. At the end of one of her nipples was what he soon realised had been a droplet of milk; when he next looked it had gone.
It was an original print, well-thumbed; perhaps the original given to Neyt by Marconi or Rodin himself, and a smaller version of the landlord's.
As my grandfather looked at the photo, considering his subject to be taller than he, the man himself rose unsteadily to his feet, but not to the height expected. The thump, thump of ironing continued like some attempt at resuscitation. Neyt seemed the epitome of decline, a man bent and struggling for purchase on the relentless slippage of time, silently holding out against further loss – of weight, height, and dignified bearing. In grubby moleskin trousers with braces, and a loose-fitting vest that he once must have stretched to tearing point, he was now round-shouldered and beyond any physical virtue supported by photographic record. The print showed a body taut with almost violent potential, but now only his forearms, as fibrous as tied bundles of sticks, remained unchanged.
My grandfather did write a story about Neyt but the publication in which it appeared reduced it by half and published it down page, declining to use Marconi's picture, or a picture of Rodin and the sculpture, or a picture of Neyt he'd taken with his Nagel/Kodak Ranca camera (Neyt's partner refused to pose; she would have been picturesque). The photo of Neyt taken by my grandfather was at the end of a roll of crash site horrors. He told me that the only mark made on the ground by the R101 was a groove ploughed by its front cone on impact. Scrap merchants arrived to claim the metal. He visited the dead, laid out inside a building in two rows, like hospital patients during an epidemic. His discovery – astonishing to him - had been made well away from the crash site. No-one identified the body. Police assumed it to have been an itinerant male, idly crossing the field as something awful and monstrous came lumbering towards him out of the skies after he'd been alerted to its low distant rumbling; he'd caught fire but managed to struggle to where my grandfather stumbled upon his Pompeiian form under a hedge and took a photograph. To that one collateral victim must have been vouchsafed an image of what death would be like, if he'd ever given it any thought.
Towards the end of his life my grandfather was seated and silent. He hated conceits and coincidences, which he associated with sensational journalism. His discoveries of the ageing Auguste Neyt and that burnt body, examples in the wider world of what was coming to the passengers and crew on the airship, what in fact was coming to us all in one form or another, were entirely separate happenings and he kept them separate, even writing about the unnamed drifter as a panel within his main story. Among the pictures on the wall at his home were a framed photograph of Neyt (a copy of the Marconi original), and a reproduction of one of de Chirico's desolate urban landscapes.
As he, too, approached death, brought to frustrating immobility by motor-neurone disease, I couldn't help thinking that de Chirico's cityscape emptiness now reminded him of an opportunity missed: of recognising in chance occurrences and fanciful images a link, a reminder, a nudge, an intimation of mortality, which might offer a sober view of those events and promises in life meant to excite or enthuse us. He left me the small, white-bordered photo he'd taken of Neyt, and I have it in front of me now: it is Neyt slightly out-of-focus, off guard and forgotten, except by the camera's decisive moment, for which its subject summons the hint of a smile. I am the same age as Neyt was in 1930: très vieux!
My grandfather was cremated after a humanist funeral service, at which I spoke of his visit to Beauvais and its unintended consequences. The crematorium was packed. I hadn't realised how many in his profession had thought well of him.
Soon, it will be time for me to go too, if the predictions are right – they usually are. I say no more, except that I have known for some while.
Nigel Jarrett is a former daily-newspaperman. He won the Rhys Davies Award and the Templar Shorts award for short fiction. He's written five books and also writes for Jazz Journal, Acumen poetry magazine, the Wales Arts Review and many others. His work is included in the Library of Wales's anthology of 20th- and 21st-century short fiction. He lives in Monmouthshire, Wales.
Dodo’s on the piano, hammering out “Keep the Home-Fires Burning” while Florrie sings to an audience of three. Each show, she’s hoping the bottle that Max passes round will come back with more than toffee wrappers and a grubby linen button. Her delicate voice competes with rumbling, the artificial thunder of a distant salvo.
Across La Manche, Florrie’s cousin Tom is deeply entrenched.
Florrie shudders beneath her pompommed hat. She tries to project her voice like she’s been taught, tries to send it back home to Smethwick to her uncle’s bakery, where oven fires are burning and loaves prove like she wants to prove herself. Where she wrestled with Tom that time – don’t send me back to the front a virgin, Florrie. Don’t make me wait. Her voice soars with her escape from the smell of yeast and wet serge. When, if, he comes back, he won’t find her.
Tom’s sheltering in mud and muck, feet rotting, skin crawling, a hundred miles from Brighton as the crow flies, eighteen years old, no longer a virgin.
Backstage, Florrie rubs at greasepaint with a cloth. Her exposed skin is young and red raw. She doesn’t want to believe that Tom was only doing what was expected, signing up, pushing her against the wooden kneading table, play-acting at being a man. The words of the song, its relentless sentiment, have turned her stomach.
Tom takes the curl-edged photograph from his breast pocket, kisses it. “Can’t wait to get back?” his mate says. “She’s a pretty little thing.” Before Tom can answer, the earth shakes, splinters.
“Two farthings tonight,” Max tells Florrie. “Could be worse.” Florrie stares out at the pink sky above the Channel, shoots Tom dead with her gaze. It’s not enough.
Anne Summerfield writes short and long fiction and poetry. She has had work published in various print and online journals such as Bending Genres, Flash Frontier, Flashback Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review and Jellyfish Review and in anthologies, such as 100 Voices for 100 Years (Unbound:2022). She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award twice and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Hampshire, England.
Triptych in Blue
Whirling hues of blue, darker the deeper,
life folded, poured by time’s hand
Flesh and blood clothe themselves in thunder,
guilt spills her shrouded shores,
courser gleams in standstill.
You sit, radiant as lava, eyes blaze dominion,
hair burnished like newly spun gold wire,
body hollowed under siege in service of myth.
The crimson lowrie unfolds its wings,
roots branch and stretch in stilled accord,
solace stitched through dappled bone.
The veil grows thin, seams of light split in
shimmering hours, each moment a sacred guest.
The moon gathers her stars, folding waves
in deep blue shadows on the azure sea,
stippled footprints in swept sand proclaim
your hallowed spirit upon sapphire strand.
Christa de Brún
Christa de Brún is an Irish poet and academic. She was most recently published in Drawn to the Light Press, New Word Order, and anthologized in the poetry collections Addictions and Cathal Buí Selected Poems 2021. Her poetry was shortlisted for the Anthology Poetry Prize 2020, and the Roscommon Poetry Prize at the Strokestown International Festival 2020. She is currently working on her first collection.
the hand in the clock
is from leonardo
the duck is from the funny
papers the circles in front
of the man within are from
fredericks of west hollywood
the lean is from italy
the head is from the u.s.
marine corps barber shop
the flags are from a
private collection the directional
arrow is from pyhthagoras
the rain is from a cloud
near the atlantic coast
south of the mason dixon
line time is the present
a day off certain patterns
are from the Indians the
east & from sewing
the squares are from
some nearby hicktown
the snowman is from
yesteryear likewise the
chalice or goblet
the sea horse is from
a lost world the triangle
and the pitcher are french
the mona lisa is from
indiana the stars are from
drugstore counters the
bricks are from a shithouse
good old boys supplied the
rope the leaves are from
whitman the dick is frank
o’hara’s the ladder is
miro’s the nail is from
freud’s 3 contributions
to the theory of sexuality
the mess is related to a
healthy testosterone level
the casual neurosis is
due to luck the colours are
straight from the heart
the skull & crossbones is
from a sunken ship off the
outer banks the branches
are from an early mondrian
the man is around the house
This West Coast author is olde school literary bum who has published in various magazines and journals, most of them gone.
Albrecht Durer — The Wing of a Blue Roller
A rainbow is rent from the body –
a pinned wing for gaping and pointing,
painted in the planet’s palette and fuzzed
with the recollection of flight. Now
staunched under glass, mites still
creep in and chew the world
apart, fast as oil slipping, not
mixing with the ocean’s
A hydra with heads that
render cutting (emissions) futile.
A hydrant hit cracks open and the
deluge shoots sideways, it’s wrenching
to watch. My watch is ticking, your clock
is running out of linear time. The heat
draws a line of sweat across our
necks, the guillotine of human
rule. A murderous monarchy
an empire’s end, sinking
on seeds of milkweed.
Jessie Zechnowitz Lim
Jessie Zechnowitz Lim is a mother and designer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an MA and BA in Art History with an AA in English from San Francisco State University, University of California Berkeley, and San Diego City College respectively. Her work has been published in The Bold Italic and Mother Mag.
Just This Fragile
It seems we’re at a window, looking in
on an interior. Despite the fact
that we’re a bare few feet away, the room
within escapes our gaze. But where cut stone
defines the window, there’s no shutter – just
a quiet adolescent leaning out
on that ledge with a reed to blow the bubble
Chardin has caught in airy paint. The youth
holds reed in his right hand, ledge in his left.
His jacket shares the stone’s grey tint, despite
a flash of white at collar, slash, and cuff.
Here, linen shows. His ribboned hair is back
off his fine forehead. There’s a sort of ease
to his still concentration – which will not
describe the child beside him, almost lost
in that unlit interior, who stands,
one must assume, on tiptoe to behold
this game for older children. Life is just
this fragile, one might comment – not a new
remark, but Chardin leaves it there for us,
if we need more on canvas than a youth
at play, a child on tiptoe by his feet.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 and 2021 Richard Snyder Publication Prizes. John published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, Snakeskin, The HyperTexts, and The Ekphrastic Review. He has published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World. He also once represented France in the European Ultimate Frisbee Championships. He retired this summer from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, where he taught French and German and coached men’s and women’s ultimate. His wife continues to teach languages there.
A Story in the Headboard Book
It’s a story of a woman reading in her bed. A woman who wears a flower of gray petals embraced by four finely chiseled sepals surrounding her face. Her canopied bed in the barren room comforts and protects. Well-pillowed, her body alert, she reads, absorbed in a red book. Her Vizsla hounds, oblivious under the bedcovers, snore and twitch their paws in safety.
She doesn’t need to read the story of the carapaced being crawling out from under her canopied bed. She knows it has sheltered beneath her for decades. She and the carapaced being both know the story and both live in the comfort and protection offered by the mystic beasts and symbols that decorate the canopied bed.
It’s a story of feathered creatures the woman reads, of feathered creatures that fly only when skies are thick and gray. Delicately boned with shining skulls and grasping hands, they know only treachery. Stay away. Hide! The feathered ones will claw at you with their twisted nails, will pull at your eyes and will smile when they leave you with blood dripping.
There is a story amongst the feathered creatures that they are born out of the boredom of gray. They lurk in wispy branches, camouflaged behind restless leaves. When they keep still, some eyes mistake their delicate bodies for branches. Stay away. Hide! Remember their twisted nails!
A fragile little tree has taken root on the carpet in the woman’s barren bedroom. There is a story it was seeded by the same flower the woman wears surrounding her face, the flower with the gray petals embraced by four finely chiseled sepals. The tree’s fragile little roots stretch, the thin gray trunk lengthens. The fragile little leaves unfold a story.
Fran Turner grew up on a farm in the southernmost part of Canada, but Toronto, where she's lived most of her life, is the place that's home. She was a nurse, a shiatsu therapist, and worked on cancer programs. For decades her heart was on the Aikido mat, training and teaching at her own dojo. Now she enjoys working on flash fiction. She’s had stories published in The Ekphrastic Review, Dodging the Rain, and Adelaide Review.
A woodsman rescues an injured heron
who turns into a beautiful woman.
When he marries her, she makes him promise
not to spy on her without permission.
Unsurprisingly, he breaks his vow
and she returns to being a wading bird.
In this Harunobu woodblock print,
we see the maiden alone, umbrella
tilted to shade her face, which if we peer closely
looks like the face of a twink, a boyish man.
Maybe she wasn’t a bird at all
but a beautiful male in drag, so when
she was discovered, the scandal was transmuted
into a fairy tale between a man and a lady
bird. And the print is really of the lover
fleeing the village in shame, still womanly
in her modest beauty. Here I sashay into the story
as the epicene youth who later asks the heavens
to curse the town with a plague (not unlike
the Spanish flu) and as retribution I’d be transformed
into a heron. But not before I return to visit
as a human one final time, you who (in this past life)
failed to stand up to your community;
this version of you that declined to escape with me.
I’m coming to bid you farewell, so the image
memorialises the journey before I show up
tossing aside my delicate umbrella
to bow into the shape of a heron.
All this to justify how you’re wrapping
your arm across my back to grip my shoulder,
making up for your karmic betrayal
in our present, pandemic lifetime, as we browse
through pictures of lovers in that Japanese century,
as if my scapulas might suddenly blossom into wings.
Lovers Walking in the Snow (Crow and Heron)
We’re in a Harunobu print,
two of us strolling through snow
to our love suicide
or merely to hurry along
under a falling sky, an umbrella
our excuse to huddle
and tilt these genderless
faces from inside formal
cowls—which of us is the crow
and which the heron depends
on our mood and the time
of the day, the colour we wear
mirroring our internal hue--
to peer shyly at each other,
eyes half-closed as if
in a kind of 18th century
slumber love resembles,
a permanent trance or frozen
wonder at the art of our existence.
Cyril Wong is a poet and fictionist in Singapore. His last book of poems was Infinity Diary, published by Seagull Books.
The Ekphrastic Review
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